And That’s How You Narrate A Story

Mark recently shared with its makers the story of a happy family who almost lost everything and the one husband who had to keep them all together — I mean, how Marketcircle‘s Daylite Productivity Suite saved his sanity.

Here it is:

If you’ve ever had to deal with a cancer diagnosis in your family, you’re probably familiar with the changes it imposes on your life how it plays with your cognitive focus. This is what my family experienced when my wife, Andrea Ross, SMS’d me on October 6, 2009 with two big-small words: “It’s cancer.”

After I overcame the shock, I realized I would have to be Andrea’s chearleading champion and primary support. I half-jokingly announced to anyone I spoke to that I was taking on the role of project manager of Andrea’s treatment program. I also realized I would have to be coordinator of the family members and friends who emerged as our support system. In the process, I had to learn the medical language of cancer.

Daylite was the perfect tool to stay on top of our new life. It was my co-pilot. I maintained contact records and meeting notes for our new world which included a surgeon, medical oncologist, radio-oncologist, Breast Cancer Clinic case worker, Patient Designated Nurse (PDN) and a home care nurse. There were surgical prep appointments, an arsenal of tests, three surgeries and all the related recovery information, nuclear medicine appointments, energy treatments, blood tests, six chemo treatments over 18 weeks, six weeks of radiation treatment (30 in all) and port-a-cath flushes.

If that’s not enough, our family still had to function as one. Daylite helped me keep track of our daughters’ (then eight and ten years old) extra-curricular activities and invitations from friends and family who hosted them for playdates, ski outings, dinners and sleepovers.

I depended heavily on Daylite’s ability to link appointments, phone calls, emails and contacts to task and projects. I kept good notes in the details and meeting minutes fields. I can’t think of a feature of Daylite that didn’t help me keep my wits about me.

Daylite Touch was a fantastic tool, as well. I used it to stay on top of everything wherever I was. Having said that, I couldn’t have the 3G features of my iPhone enabled in most of the hospital, and I was more than conscious of the stigma attached to taking “handheld notes” during face-to-face meetings. So, I kept handwritten notes using my Livescribe Pulse Smartpen ( and attached the PDFs into appropriate records in Daylite. This saved me missing important information and allowed me to avoid a double entry note system. It was a snap!

I’m excited beyond words that Andrea’s been given a clean bill of health. The busiest part of her treatment program ended in time for us to enjoy an amazing and re-connecting summer. She returned to work in September. She have another four years of Tamoxifen and has lingering discomfort from the assault on her body. You learn to love life and live it all over again.

Did Daylite save Andrea’s life? No. Mine? Perhaps. We’ll never know. What I do know is there’s no way I could have kept my wits about me while tracking of all of the goings-on using any other personal organization software – definitely not as efficiently or effectively.

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Happy anniversary,

This past October marked the beginning of catalogue of anniversaries in our journey through Andrea’s cancer treatment program. At one point I’d worried the anniversaries would be hard and emotional. It turns out they’re rewarding and invigorating because of Andrea’s resilience and good health. It’s like we have a second chance at life.

Today is a particularly significant anniversary. WeCanRebuildHer was launched one year ago, today, following Andrea’s head-shaving party the night before. The party was such an important milestone in our journey that I’ve kept some of Andrea’s hair from that night as a souvenir.

To play with the text in the first post, we invite you to follow our journey through life as a family that has survived the cancer treatment process. We’ll continue to blog our experiences and thoughts and share audio, video and photographs of the process of enjoying life together.

And just in case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a video we put together from the head-shaving party. As noted at one point in the video, our then-8-year-old was the videographer.

I never thanked you for saving my life

As I made my way home from the grocery store with a fresh cache of veggies for Andrea’s morning juice, I walked past our neighbourhood pharmacy. Not surprisingly, I was brought back to this time last year.

I had become a regular at the pharmacy, picking up prescriptions for Andrea’s post-op recovery and would become an even more frequent patron as Andrea worked through chemo and radiation therapy. Now I make only the occasional trip to pick up Andrea’s Tamoxifen, vitamins or miscellaneous toiletries.

A year ago yesterday, I started a new career in digital public affairs at Fleishman-Hillard (woohoo!) — a new slant on my digital life.

A lot of uncertainty and change lay ahead. As scared as I was, I felt like Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, sitting atop the crow’s nest daring the storm to give me everything it had… “you call this a storm?!”

It took walking past the pharmacy to take stock of my own growth in the last year.

Marry me!

Due to the generosity of my parents, our two daughters had 24 hours without their parents. They had a great time swimming, going out to see a movie and (perhaps most importantly for them) no household responsibilities.

Of course, it also meant Andrea and I were obliged to find ways to occupy our time. We did commendably! We threw ourselves at the mercy of coffee shops, tea shops, book stores and forced ourselves to dine out. Oh, the humanity.

In the process, my iPhone camera was on rapid fire and I was able to capture some of the many faces of my beautiful wife. I created this collage from our weekend. Note, I’m particularly fond of the photos in the lower-right.

Thanksgiving, 2010-style

Last Thanksgiving came just days after Andrea’s diagnosis. We went to Quebec City for a family vacation, two months in the making. While we weren’t our usual jovial selves (under the circumstances), being away from home pulled us sufficiently out of our routine that we were able to lose ourselves for brief moments, forgetting about the road that lay ahead — moments like when we were on a tour of the Citadel, the Musée de la civilizations and at that great fondu place for lunch (whatever it’s called).

There’s so much to be thankful for this year, much of it has already been expressed here. Obvious things like our great support network, the amazing health care system, Andrea’s strength and attitude and ESPECIALLY good health. All of these combined to make this a particularly momentus Thanksgiving. Of course, the fact that I didn’t ruin the turkey was a huge relief, as well.

Last night during our Thanksgiving dinner, I reached beyond our usual thanks to acknowledge my work colleagues for their support and mentorship. I’m lucky to work with amazingly smart, talented and creative people — incredible strategic thinkers, all of whom I’ve learned from since joining Fleishman-Hillard 10 months ago. I wish them and their families the kind of connected Thanksgiving we enjoyed as a family this year.

$5148 and counting

Two days ago, Paul and Sheri topped up Andrea’s Run for the Cure fundraising efforts, pushing her to $4000 — her goal at the time. That’s when we discovered Andrea was the third highest fundraiser in Ottawa.

We announced the milestone on this blog, Twitter and Facebook, asking for help to put Andrea in the pole position for fundraising in Ottawa.

At this moment, Andrea is second overall in the city with sponsorship of $5,148!!! That’s incredible. And yet, there’s still opportunity to be part of fundraising history by making Andrea the number one fundraiser for the first time in her life.

If your name isn’t on this list, sponsor Andrea and help make history. You have 29 days left.

Huge, huge thank yous to:

Glen McGregor
Carla Howatt
Anne Wiltshire
Jan Annino
Zetta Elliot
Mitch Joel
Sue Murphy
Carolyn Dittburner
Linda Corsini
Corinne Demas
Kaveh Adel
Heather Jopling
Lee Edward Fodi
Snookie & Norman Lomow
Sheree Fitch
Pam Hunter
Anita Neubert
Bob Goyetche
Kevin Chouinard
Evelina Vezarov
Heather Duggan
Mare Swallow
Todd and Christie Bastianon
Ana-Maria Popescu
Lori-Ann, Curtis & Olivia
Laura Bergen
Paul & Sheri Goulet
Kelly Clavette
Todd Tyrtle
Heidi Estrin
Dave Fleet
Eden Spodek
Esmé Codell
Anthony Marco
Angela Misri
Troy Wilson
The Waters Family
Alvina Ling
Katie Davis
Hugh McGuire
Mark Tafoya
Miranda McCurlie
Isabelle Michaud
Liz Murray
Jim Puckalo
Dwayne Melançon
Tamir Israel
Jennifer Johnston
Shari Greenspan
Phenix Dental Clinic Team
The Sinanan Family
Carol Grannick
Coreen Corcoran
Rich Cantrell
Patricia Kahn
Sriram Venkatarman
Stacey MacNevin
Ebony Haywood
Joan Buzick
Tanglewood Books
Mary Antolovich
Jay Schmidt
Daniele Rossi
The Bonsall/Small Family
Joanne Lennon
Greg & Andree O’Donnell
Betti Stiff
Cher & Mo Willems
The Giassa/Whammond Family
Whitney and John Hoffman
Barbara Reid-Crysler
Geoffrey Butler
Bert and Rhoda Blevis
Armeda Vanderwoude
Wilf and Barb Clavette
Clare Rogers
Denise Doyen
Garry and Kathi Tysick
Stephanie Calmenson and Mark Goldman
Carol Heyer
Diane Greenseid
Cathy Arneson
Nancy Pevey
Lane Smith and Molly Leach
William Flanagan
Orit Fruchtman
Diane DeGroat
Sally Ito
Hugh Brewster
Paul Zelinsky
Tania Carriere & Gerry Gaetz
Marla Frazee
Bob Ledrew
Tanya Snook
Robert McCarty
Richard Christie
Chris Brogan
Tom Tentoglou
Mary Lee Hahn
The Gupta/Gustyn Family
Andrew Quayle

The party was off the hook

We’d been waiting for last night for a long time. It was our opportunity to thank our amazing support network and collectively celebrate great health. We invited 140 people who were instrumental in getting us through the last year. Of course, this is a time of year when people are squeezing the last few hours of summer into their lives. About 50 were able to join us.

It was an incredible evening of hugs, smiles, laughing and lots of food and wine. And after the party wound up, a few hardy friends came back to our house and kept the celebrations going till nearly 3am.

Thank you to everyone who was able to come and be a part of the fun. And… a MASSIVE THANK YOU to our dear friends Athina, Tracy and Jessica (the amazing staff of the First Avenue Day Care) for sharing their space and for being the best hosts ever!

Photos of the party are now online.

Cottage Dreams, Cottage Reality

Growing up, vacations typically meant travelling to discover branches of the family tree. In adulthood, most of the vacations I took involved running from one tourist site to another with stops at cafés and bistros for something good to eat. Actually, the cafés and bistros only came about in my thirties. Before that it was fast food.

So, summers have always been packed and rushed with me arriving at September feeling as though I never caught my breath.

Enter summer 2010.

Andrea’s journey to survival has been therapeutic for our family. A big part of that has been making time for us. Evenings are about being together. Vacations are about connecting and relaxing.

Last week had us immersed in our second amazing spa-like vacation (the first was at the end of June, read Good Times, Noodle Salad). We spent the week at a cottage on Beaver Lake, just outside Kearney, Ontario. The cottage was made available to us through Cottage Dreams.

Cottage Dreams connects people who have been through cancer treatment with cottages that are vacant for one week periods. It’s simple. It’s genius. It’s mighty invigorating for the recipients and mighty rewarding for the cottage owners.

Besides being an amazing advocate for people who need the decompression time, Cottage Dreams is one of the few organizations I know of that you can call and always get a real person answering the phone — a real person who is passionate about helping people. And, their screening process is thorough to ensure Cottage Dreams finds amazing cottage owners who believe in being a part of this process, and guests who can be trusted to take good care of the cottage.

Our cottage hosts were committed to ensuring we had the best vacation, and they succeeded.

For six glorious days we enjoyed a view of the tops of trees leading down to Beaver Lake, went swimming, kayaking, read, played Euchre, picked (and ate) berries, listened to music, ate and slept — lots. We also hung out with Hummingbirds, Blue Jays, Loons, Merganser Ducks and one type of duck we weren’t able to identify but that can run very fast on water! Being the geek I am, I audio recorded a lot of sounds and will release them as part of my summer soundtrack later this month. At the end of the week, we managed to clean the cottage without any disputes (unlike being at home).

This summer is the best summer of my life — and there’s still a few weeks to experience.

Good times, noodle salad

We digital folk find it difficult to be without our online community. We love our digital relationships so much that anytime we’re presented with a decent 3G signal, we find ourselves temped to check our email. Frankly, Andrea and I have done pretty well over the last few days. Then, curiosity got the better of us.

We’re touched that since posts to slowed down we’ve been receiving lots of email asking how we’re doing; how our children and dog are.

I’m pleased to report that life is grand, full of celebrations, fresh air and the kinds of family and friends that make this life great! In fact, as I write this, we’re transitioning from one wave of celebration and relaxation to the next — which involves a fire pit, sticks and gooey mounds of sugar.

I hope you’re enjoying the beginning of summer as much as we are — whether online, offline or both.

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Day!

A standing ovation

PAB is an annual conference and community formed in 2006 which has become a very important part of our lives both as co-organizers and participants. While its roots are in podcasting, the program has matured and become almost exclusively about content creation, community and engagement.

Andrea was part of the JOLT! program for PAB2010 this past weekend. JOLT!s are 5-minute, slide-free presentations during which the speaker is selected to wake-up the imaginations, brains and collective energy of the community.

Andrea’s Contested Irrelevance commanded a standing ovation. Not only that, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as she shared the story of how the connections and friendships we’ve made online through Just One More Book and We Can Rebuild Her (and others) helped us through our journey to breast cancer survivorship and made us feel relevant.

Video of Andrea’s JOLT! will be available online in the coming weeks. Of course, we’ll embed it on this site.

Congratulations, Andrea. You’ve inspired and touched so many people.

Photo of Andrea and Mark at PAB2010 by Tod Maffin.

Today I will smile and feel gooood!

Andrea received an inspiring and completely unexpected package, today — two pairs of brightly coloured socks with the message “Today I will smile and feel gooood!” With them, was a note (I’ve added links for convenience)…

Dear Andrea,

Please accept these uplifting socks from us — your approach + outlook is inspiring!! MegzyTred on Flickr told us about your great blog + that socks can make a hospital visit a little bit brighter so we wanted to help

Wishing you strength, smiles + health!

Rich + Tom
Socks for Happy People

It’s so nice to know that Andrea has such an impact on people, that they recognize how inspiring her authenticity and transparency is and want to share some good cheer of their own. Wow!

Thank you MegzyTred, Rick and Tom. I know I didn’t have to blog about you and your gesture, but I did. Knowing that Andrea has such a far reaching impact made me smile and feel gooood!

William Li: Can we eat to starve cancer?

Since Andrea is at the I Can Do It! conference, I thought I’d do my best to keep publishing fresh content on the site.

While catching up on a backlog of the TED talk videos, I saw this talk by William Li on eating to starve cancer. The talk includes a look at how cancer forms and how certain foods and spices stack up against prescribed cancer treatments.

This video is definitely worth a watch. There’s also a short animated story at the end that serves as a nice dessert.

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Dad and daughters weekend

I can’t remember the last time Andrea went away for the weekend which means her getaway to Toronto is long overdue. It’s just Lucy, Bayla and me. There’s lots of fun things to do this weekend. However, like most weekends in our house, they have accumulated a mess that needs to be cleaned up before anything else can happen. I’m really hoping they can tackle the backlog tonight so we can enjoy the rest of the weekend with no pressure.

By the way, we pulled together a short video about Sylvester last night. Here it is.

The most lavish party this town has ever seen

Some months ago I didn’t think there was going to be a birthday party for me this year — my 40th. The truth is, I wasn’t sure I wanted a birthday party what with everything that was going on in our lives. Andrea insisted she would arrange a party for me.

Imagine that. While going through chemotherapy, Andrea was committed to arranging a party for me. And she did.

Then came last week — the week from hell. Without going into details, our family situation and stress level was such that neither Andrea nor I felt much like celebrating. In fact, my actual birthday was a real bust. We canceled party-time care for our two daughters… twice.

Then, things turned around. Andrea, Lucy, Bayla and I escaped Ottawa for the day yesterday. We had a fantastic time being together away from our troubles and away from our usual surroundings. During lunch, Andrea suggested we bring Lucy and Bayla along to the party.

It was a perfect suggestion.

And… my party ended up being better than I could have ever expected. I was reminded how great my friends are and my family had a chance to meet others who are important to me: Rick Claus and his wife Kelli, Bob Goyetche, Jay West and his wife Ann, Bob Ledrew (OtherBob) and his wife Cat, Jamie O’Farrell, Julien Smith, Robert Farrell, Maurizio Ortolani and his wife Jacinthe, and Franc Epton and his wife Lisa. Thank you for being a part of my life, being at my party and for the incredible gifts!!!

I’m an amazingly lucky guy!